Thousands of Arab and Kurdish residents in northern Syria’s Manbij city protested for the release of imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan on Sunday.
The event, organised by the Democratic Arab Youth Movement, came several days before the 18th anniversary of Ocalan’s abduction and arrest in Kenya in 1999.
People gathered at the Martyr Faisal Abu Layla roundabout in the early afternoon carrying flags of the Democratic Arab Youth Movement, posters of the PKK leader and banners calling for his freedom.
A member of the Democratic Arab Youth Movement, Mohsen Jassim, speaking during the demonstration, denounced Ocalan’s arrest and said he had sacrificed his freedom for the freedom of Arabs, Turkmen, and Kurds to live together in peace, reported Ara News.
The protest is thought to be the first time thousands of Arab citizens have protested for the Kurdish leader. Activists say this is testimony to the success of the autonomous region in Syria’s north, which officials have said are inspired by Ocalan’s ideas.
Manbij was taken by the Kurdish-Arab dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in August 2016 and is run by a local assembly affiliated to the autonomous administration in northern Syria, also known as Rojava.
Ocalan was brought to Turkey on 15 February 1999 and following what the European Court of Human Rights said was an ‘unfair trial’, sentenced to life-imprisonment on Imrali island prison to the south of the Marmara sea.
The PKK, founded by Ocalan in 1978, has been engaged in an armed insurgency against the Turkish government since 1984. Initially aiming for an independent socialist Kurdish state, the PKK has evolved its demands to autonomy in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of the country. More than 40,000 have been recorded dead in clashes between Turkish security forces and PKK forces.